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Important Information Regarding Bleach and FR Clothing

OSHA 1910.269 Laundering Resource Guide

The following is Q&A to help FRC wearers understand flame resistant garments and its use around bleach or other hazardous chemicals. In general, the use of bleach is not recommended for any flame resistant garments as over-use can degrade fabric and negatively impact performance characteristics of FR clothing. Although chlorine bleach will not affect inherent flame resistance properties, such as products made with FRMC® fabric, chemically-treated flame resistant garment performance can be affected. (1)

Q: Is It Dangerous for FRC Clothing to Come Into Contact with Bleach?

A: Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in significant concentrations will impact the flame resistance of FR-treated cotton products. As best practice, Tyndale recommends removing any FR garment from service if it has had contact with bleach. If concentrated enough, bleach can cause an exothermic (heat producing) reaction with fabric.

Q: Can I Launder FR Clothing with Detergent Containing Chlorine Bleach?

A: Since chlorine bleach is typically used at home for laundering white fabrics only, there is little risk that bleach would be applied to FR-treated garments. With that said, chlorine bleach should not be used on FRC as bleach can destroy flame resistant fabric integrity.

If laundering FR clothing at home, detergent with bleach alternatives can be used. When laundering chemically treated FR garments, avoid using products with chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide and look for detergents containing sodium perborate (or other bleach alternatives).

While hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach won’t diminish the FR properties of inherently flame resistant garments, it is not recommended to use these products on such fabrics. (1)

Q: Can FRC Clothing Be Used Instead of Chemical Protective Clothing?

A: There has been misinformation spread in the industry that Nomex®, or certain types of FR garments, are appropriate around hazardous chemicals. This practice is not only incorrect, but can also be very dangerous.

It is recommended to discontinue the use of cotton flame resistant garments in areas where bleach or other strong oxidizers are present. Industry safety professionals agree that it is incorrect to simply discontinue the use of FR cotton garments and replace them with Nomex® garments as this fabric would still not adequately protect someone from bleach or other strong oxidizers. (2)

Like other woven fabrics, Nomex® fabrics are highly permeable thus hazardous chemicals can easily penetrate through the fabric and cause chemical burns on the skin. In fact, most aramid garments are made of fabrics that are not designed to protect the wearer against chemical penetration. (2)

Regardless of the type of clothing worn underneath, appropriate chemical splash protective apparel should always be worn if there is potential for exposure to chemical splash hazards. A review of material safety data sheets for sodium hypochlorite (bleach) at various concentrations confirm that proper chemical splash protection is required to protect you from skin or eye contact, inhalation and ingestion. (2)

Q: What Can I do to Prevent Bleach Injuries?

A: If bleach is a hazard present in your workplace, follow the steps below to ensure that employees are well informed and properly protected:

  1. Share product information with employees and contractors.
  2. Discontinue the use of cotton flame resistant (FR) garments in areas where bleach and other strong oxidizers are present or require chemical resistant clothing over cotton FR clothing.
  3. Ensure that employees are aware of manufacturer guidelines and laundering requirements for all PPE (personal protective equipment).
  4. Review technical literature for all PPE for similar limitations and reactions. (3)

For more information on the care and maintenance of FRC, please see our previous post on 3 Tips on How to Wash FR Clothing & its Useful Wear Life.

References for this post were accessed January 2014:

(2) Westex Response to LyondellBassell Safety Advisory dated March 2012

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